Rain comes again after dry spell

A series of storms that touched down late Monday night could bring two to four inches of total rainfall to La Cañada Flintridge and the surrounding foothills throughout the weekend, though local forecasters report this wet weather likely will not threaten hillside stability.

Despite December’s record-breaking rainfall of 14.5 inches, this most recent spate of rain will be simply a return to average levels for February after a drier-than-usual January.

The National Weather Service issued a special weather statement on Monday, reporting that a series of Pacific storm systems would produce unsettled weather, including gusty winds, rainfall and snow in the mountain areas. Though they were expected to be light at first, the systems were forecast to grow in intensity by Wednesday and bring a surge of snowfall to elevations as low as 3,000 feet by the weekend. Higher elevations should receive a total of four to seven inches of snow by Monday.

But Bill Patzert, a climatologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is advising residents not to worry too much, saying that even with the showers, La Cañada will be well below the 4.5-inch rainfall average for February, historically the wettest month of the year locally.

“We’re getting a couple of normal February storms,” Patzert said, invoking a boxing metaphor. “Two light jabs and a couple of body shots, but no knock-out punches.”

The rainfall, Patzert added, is still badly needed to help revitalize forest lands in the foothills ravaged by the Station fire of 2009, especially after January saw less than six-tenths of an inch of total rainfall. Residents living in areas typically thought of as high-risk for flooding and debris flow may want to practice vigilance should any unexpected meteorological events take place, though nothing out of the ordinary is anticipated this weekend, he said.

Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, which maintains the debris basins that protect hillside homes, were a little more cautious about making any predictions and advise hillside residents to stay on the alert, especially for any sudden bursts of heavy rain.

“Knowing that weather can be unpredictable, we try to prepare for everything,” spokesman Mike Kaspar said.

Though area basins were emptied of debris after December’s storms and are at full operating capacity, Kaspar said hillside stability will remain tenuous until forest vegetation regenerates, a process that could take six more winters.

The current mild weather system comes on the heels of an unseasonably wet December, which saw flooding and rain throughout Southern California to a degree not seen since 1889. That deluge brought as much as three inches of rain per day at its peak and completely saturated hillside lands, threatening homes in the area. Despite its intensity, it did not pose an ultimate threat to the deeper geologic integrity of the foothills, Patzert said.

“We were definitely tested in December, and we did fine. People should use that as a data point — this is definitely not going to be that bad,” he added.

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